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Monday, August 05, 2019

A New Book Examines the Relationship between Math and Physics | Math - Scientific American

This article was originally published with the title "Do the Math" in Scientific American 321, 2, 78 (August 2019) 

It sure comes in handy for doing physics, argues Steve Mirsky, Editor at Scientific American.

The Universe Speaks in Numbers:
How Modern Math Reveals Nature's Deepest Secrets
Early in his new book, physics historian Graham Farmelo quotes Nima Arkani-Hamed, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, N.J.: “We can eavesdrop on nature not only by paying attention to experiments but also by trying to understand how their results can be explained with the deepest mathematics. You could say that the universe speaks to us in numbers.” Relax, he doesn't mean numerology.

That quote provides the book's title: The Universe Speaks in Numbers. Of course, there's a subtitle, too: How Modern Math Reveals Nature's Deepest Secrets. The book also deals with the thorny question of whether the revelations of math truly are nature's deepest secrets or whether they're merely some secrets that we can glimpse via math. That discussion can lead to physics conference fistfights...

Atiyah helped to end a period of estrangement between physics and math, which Freeman Dyson (who at 95 is safely referred to as a living legend) talked about at the symposium. Dyson had noticed the falling-out when he joined Einstein (among other luminaries) on the IAS faculty: “When I became a professor, [which] just coincided with the time when [Robert] Oppenheimer [former head of the Manhattan Project] became director..., there was a divorce—largely occasioned by the fact Oppenheimer had no use for pure mathematics, and the pure mathematicians had no use for bombs.”

Source: Scientific American